The Home Office's Linton-on-Ouse asylum centre is the wrong plan in the wrong place
Linton-on-Ouse is a quiet sort of place. It has one road and no streetlights. In the winter it regularly floods and when I drive over the main bridge, I feel like I have my life in my hands due to the way it crumbles.
No doubt, when the powers that be in the Home Office first noticed it they thought: “Out of sight, out of mind – the perfect dumping ground for asylum seekers.”
But there’s something they forgot – us, the villagers. Our rural community includes residents with Moroccan, Iraqi, and Polish heritage, as well as those born in Singapore and Poland. My own father was a World War II refugee. We are not NIMBYs or xenophobes. We are simply a rural community furious at the way our lives have been changed without any consultation or even rationality.
Every day, we pass the cairns marking the sacrifices of servicemen and women in Linton-on-Ouse who fought for democracy. This is about the democratic process – this feels like embedding what was the thin end of the wedge under the guise of “emergency powers” adopted supposedly for the Covid response.
Putting so many people in what can only feel like a prison environment will add to trauma
The contract with us as citizens has been broken. We have not been consulted. I could object to my next-door neighbour wishing to build a conservatory, but not about this complete bulldozing of a way of life. We have choice about things that don’t matter, but when we need to be involved in something huge we’re not allowed.
What we are concerned about is proportionality. Regardless of what you think about asylum seekers, the fact is that they are here and we as a country need to be doing something with them and for them. The government announced that each local area should take their fair share, and this much we agree with. But how is 1,800 people (1,500 asylum seekers plus the 300 staff Serco is reportedly recruiting) being heaped on a village of 700 people proportional?
Along with the shaky bridge, there are other practical matters like the sewage system and the isolation. When the people of Eastern Europe came to the UK in the aftermath of World War II – people like my father – they didn’t have great accommodation, but they were taken to work where they could start integrating with the local community and also contribute to the wellbeing of the country – a quid pro quo for being taken in, if you will.
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are thus precluded from feeling useful. York may be 10 miles away, but on £8 a week, they can’t afford to go there, so they will just be sitting on their hands with nothing to do.
Linton-on-Ouse is often compared to Napier Barracks, but the latter is at least on the edge of a town. Nothing that exists in Napier exists in Linton – no charities, and no support groups. It’s not comparable.
The site itself, a former RAF station, could be traumatic for refugees from war-torn areas. The fields adjacent to the village are used for game sports, so it’s common to hear gunfire, and the site has military overtones. The base is also still used by other planes as a waypoint, so military planes regularly fly low over the village. Putting so many people in what can only feel like a prison environment will add to trauma.
It is really starting to grate that in every article there is a statement from the Home Office saying: “We are continuing to consult with stakeholders” and that the “system is broken”. The Home Office has broken the system. They chose to do this, and they never consulted us. It’s the wrong plan, in the wrong place.
Olga Matthias is a member of the Linton Village Action Group.
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